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Indie Game A Day: Epic Dungeon - Review

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There should probably be a ban on using the word "epic" in videogames. It started innocently enough with fanboys simply referring to their favorite games as epic. But now things have gotten out of hand, with even Nintendo throwing the hyperbole into the title of its latest Kirby game. Never-the-less, we shouldn't judge books by their covers nor games by their titles, and so I present Epic Dungeon. Does this indie RPG earn its name, or is this a bandwagon with more than one flat tire.

Epic Dungeon is a more streamlined take on the long lineage of Rouge-like RPGs. You begin by choosing one of four classes and descend through 100 floors of randomly generated dungeon. Each class begins with proficiency in one of four skills, like the shaman's freeze spell or the barbarian's swirling sword attack. As you gain levels you earn points to upgrade any of the four abilities, so class doesn't play a huge role in the long run. In fact, there might as well only be one class since after a few tries with each one you'll likely just settle into picking the gambler for his overpowered poison attack.
The beauty of Epic Dungeon is its accessibility. Rouge-like RPGs have a tendency to cater only to the hardest of the hardcore players, but Epic Dungeon defies that trend. Movement is fast with the left stick, and attacking is a simple matter of aiming the right stick toward an adjacent enemy. The game moves in real-time too, so it has a much quicker pace than the common Rouge-like. Don't mistake the word "accessible" for easy, Epic Dungeon will challenge even the most stalwart RPG veteran. But the controls have been refined to have that illusive pickup-and-play quality so that you can focus entirely on exploration without worrying about the controls.
There's another way that Epic Dungeon breaks from the Rouge-like mold, and that's in its graphics. Rogue-likes are typically pretty sparse as far as visuals are concerned, many simply using ASCII characters. Not so in Epic Dungeon, which features absolutely gorgeous pixel art. Screenshots really don't do the game justice, as pixelated fog obscures each floor of the dungeon until your lantern lights the way. In fact, that lantern is an important tool, as it not only clears away the dark fog on each floor but also shines light on secret passages and hidden gold caches. The lantern adds a lot of atmosphere to the game, as your visible field diminishes with your lantern oil, bringing with it intense claustrophobia until more oil can be found.
Throughout the dungeon you'll come across question marks that, when activated, give you miniature text quests. Each quest has multiple choices, with the outcome of those choices dictated by your character's stats. Find an eerie fleshbound book? Picking it up could give you a healthy stat boost if your luck is high enough, otherwise it could spawn a dozen or so skeletons that tear you to shreds. Knowing that the outcomes are based on your stats, it's possible to evaluate which option you should pick, rather than just rely on a completely random element.

Finally, I have to mention that the way in which your character dies is simply brilliant. When you die in the dungeon, and you will, the game makes a note of which floor you died on. The next time you play, when you reach that floor again, you'll find a tombstone marking your past efforts. It's nice to have that recognition of your past lives, but even better is that along with your tombstone you'll find a piece of equipment from that character's inventory. It's an extra treat that makes the sting of losing hurt a little bit less.
Epic Dungeon might have an overused trope in its title, but it also is packed with RPG goodness to back it up. I've played countless hours of Epic Dungeon so far, and each time it's a completely unique and fantastic adventure. Pickup-and-play accessibility isn't usually associated with RPGs, but with Epic Dungeon it makes for a dangerously addictive game of, yes, epic proportions.

Epic Dungeon is available on the Xbox 360 through the Xbox Indie Games section of the marketplace.

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